Background to the Pre-Nuptial Agreement
These are exciting times for you and your respective families as you plan and anticipate the joy of celebrating your Chuppah and look forward to the future as a married couple. Judaism, with its beautiful rituals, festivals and Sabbaths provides a special framework through which a marriage can flourish and we wish you the traditional Jewish blessing – Mazal Tov – as you begin this important journey together.
Marriage is, of course, a complex relationship. It involves the intertwining of two lives at many different levels. In order to succeed, it requires the unremitting efforts of both husband and wife to be attentive and sensitive to each others needs. Included in this are their spiritual needs and because the marriage relationship is the ideal state for enhancing and harnessing the spirituality latent in every man and woman, the effecting of the marriage bond is called (in Hebrew) ‘kiddushin’ – which means ‘sanctification’.
Marriage under a chuppah involves, amongst other things, the acceptance of all the conditions and requirements of Jewish law. This is encapsulated in the words of the groom when he says to his bride: “Be consecrated to me (as my wife) with this ring according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” The Rabbis, from the earliest times, re-inforced this declaration by requiring the bridegroom to make a solemn commitment to fulfil all his duties to his future bride as detailed and witnessed in the ketubah (marriage contract). This includes financial obligations to provide for her basic needs – even in the event of his demise or divorce. The ketubah is thus probably the earliest form of pre-nuptial agreement (PNA).
What happens if the marriage fails?
We share your aspirations that your marriage will blossom and grow and, notwithstanding the possibility of some occasional moments of discord, that it will prevail throughout your life-time. At this stage in your relationship, the last thing you wish to contemplate is the possibility – however remote – of divorce. Yet the Torah, itself, acknowledges that not all marriages are destined to succeed indefinitely, and it provides for the possibility, as a last resort, for a couple to terminate their relationship. This, however, can only be achieved in a very specific way.
Jewish divorce is effected by means of a get. A get is a document specially written at the instruction of the husband to be handed to his wife at the Beth Din. Once she has received the get, both parties are then free to re-marry. However, unlike a civil divorce which can be instigated without the consent of both parties, a get – can only be effected with the willing co-operation of both husband and wife. So if either party is obstructive, a ‘stalemate’ predicament ensues in which neither of them is free to re-marry Jewishly, even if they have been divorced in civil law. This deadlock, if prolonged unnecessarily, can, understandably, be enormously damaging for all concerned. A woman is particularly vulnerable in such a situation because, as she remains religiously married to her estranged husband, any involvement with another man would be deemed adultery, with tragic consequences for any children subsequently conceived.
How does the London Beth Din’s PNA help?
When you are interviewed to apply for the Chief Rabbi’s Authorisation of your Marriage, you will be offered a PNA to sign. It is assumed that all marrying couples will sign it and we encourage you to do so. A sample copy of this is available here. This document asks you to agree to certain undertakings that should help to avoid the problems described above.
First, the couple undertake that, should their marriage run into serious difficulties, they would attend the Court of the Chief Rabbi (London Beth Din) who may suggest a referral for counselling or mediation that may support their failing marriage. If, however, their relationship has deteriorated to the point where such support would be to no avail, the same meeting provides the Beth Din with an opportunity to discuss the possibility of get proceedings with the couple. From experience, where there is a deadlock in relation to the get, such a discussion is often a critical moment where the couple ‘turn the corner’ and agree to move on.
Second, should the obstructive party be the husband, the agreement provides for the Beth Din, at its discretion, to direct him to fulfil his financial obligations to his wife in Jewish law (as per the conditions in the ketubah).
The PNA comes with the recommendation of the Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din. It is designed both to facilitate the giving and receiving of a get in those cases where this is sadly required. Thankfully, the vast majority of marriages are successful. However, it is our strong wish that by all couples signing the document as a matter of course, it will be in place in those cases where it is truly needed.
If you do have any queries, please feel free to contact Joanne Greenaway at the London Beth Din (either by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0208 343 6270), who will be pleased to offer further advice or clarification.
The PNA sets out to ensure that the sanctity of Jewish marriage is preserved and enhanced, not only in the circumstances of its joyful celebration but also, God forbid, should it ever fail to live up to its hopes and expectations. When husband and wife relate to each other with mutual respect and goodwill, this can only support their efforts to make their marriage succeed. As you approach your wedding day with eager anticipation, we wish you both every success and enduring happiness in this most wonderful, joint endeavour.